Even the most casual observer of North Korea can sketch out double-crossing, intrigue, and the deeply survivalist nature of its politics. Alice Stephens’ debut novel, Famous Adopted People, harnesses these characteristics into a darkly comedic game of cat and mouse. At the center of this suspenseful story is Korean-American adoptee Lisa Pearl, who, as an adult, is abducted and taken to North Korea. She serves as both predator and prey while searching for a way out ... Stephens’ rapid-fire dialogue almost physically propels the characters forward but doesn’t leave enough space for the consequences of their decisions to jell properly ... While Famous Adopted People is sharply clever and wields family dynamics in a way that impressively shakes up its seemingly unflappable protagonist, I found myself getting lost a little too often alongside Lisa, wandering through its labyrinthine spy-fortress setting without aim.
...The author, who describes herself as being 'among the first generation of transnational, interracial adoptees,' takes charge with a tale that will knock your expectations to, well, somewhere surreal yet real. Step into Villa Umma, where Lisa has been kidnapped, no, delivered. She’s had a shattering fight with her BFF, fellow adoptee Mindy, at a Seoul Dunkin’ Donuts about meeting Mindy’s birth mother and absconded to Jeju Island with the MotherFinders representative. Turns out Mindy’s bioparent doesn’t particularly want her, but Lisa’s certainly does—not to reclaim 27 lost years but to further her Machiavellian plans to place Lisa’s half brother at the helm of a nuclear-power-to-be ... Stephens’ darkly comic, sharply irreverent, undeniably wise 'Great Adoption Novel' is an unexpectedly timely, not-to-be-missed, epic wild ride.
Stephens nails Lisa’s angst. She's snarky, tough as nails on the outside, and jelly on the inside. The story is a wild ride into the unknown. It tries to capture what it would be like under the ultimate surveillance state with a dictator worshipped like a God. Stephens sprinkles facts throughout the story to ground her fiction.
In her tragicomic debut, sardonic and sincere in turn, Stephens follows an adoptee’s eventful search for her birth mother ... Peppered with moments of political satire and heartfelt introspection, Stephens’s novel also offers a fun-house depiction of the absurdities and horrors of the surveillance state. This is an excellent debut.